Larson drives to first victory
When it comes to auto racing, it’s no secret that NASCAR is at the top of the ranks at the professional level in both national recognition and salaries for those that prove their talents. Nearly every driver in the NASCAR ranks started their career on small town tracks and Placerville Speedway is no exception.
Whether you’re a race fan or not, it’s likely you have heard the name Kyle Larson who has quickly driven his way to the sport’s highest level.
Last weekend, Larson captured his first Nationwide Series victory at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, becoming the first-ever California native to do so, and followed up with a second-place finish in the Auto Club 400 at the same track.
The 21 year-old from Elk Grove is considered one of NASCAR’s promising young drivers.
It was just over seven years ago that Larson first strapped into a winged sprint car at Placerville Speedway. The former outlaw kart racer quickly turned heads as he drove his way to top finishes at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds’ dirt track and became the youngest driver to win a feature event, capturing a prestigious Civil War Series win.
That night on the front stretch, Larson embraced his father Mike and his mother Janet and was surrounded by friends and family as he took to the infield microphone with longtime track announcer Bill Sullivan. The words many remember from that famed interview that now appears on a nationwide advertisement for Target, “I want to make it to NASCAR one day.”
Larson made his first ever start in the famed Daytona 500 to begin his first full season on Sprint Cup competition driving the No. 41 for Earnhardt-Ganassi racing. The start in the great American race follows many top finishes including a championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and successful terms in both the NASCAR Camping World Trucks and the Nationwide Series as evidenced by last weekend.
Larson isn’t the only Placerville Speedway alumni competing with the nation’s big boys. Grass Valley native Brad Sweet was also berthed from the quarter-mile bullring in the Sierra Foothills.
Sweet is much like Larson when it comes to versatility in the sport, competing in all types of venues to date, including sprint cars both winged and wingless and midgets all the way up to NASCAR Trucks and the Nationwide Series.
In addition to the top “pavement” ranks, Sweet won the most recent edition of the prestigious King’s Royal Sprint Car Race and is now competing fulltime in the World of Outlaw’s Sprint Car Tour for Kasey Kahne Motorsports, sharing his schedule with that of NASCAR Trucks and the Nationwide Series.
Much like Larson, Sweet too won his first ever Civil War Series victory in a winged sprint car at Placerville Speedway.
Ironically, both Sweet and Larson drove locally for car owners David and Debbie Vertullo. Both were also interviewed after their career notable victories by Sullivan, who also has utilized his hometown track in Placerville to find his way in the employment ranks of NASCAR.
While Larson and Sweet have worked their way to the forefront behind the wheel, Sullivan, a former journalist with the Mountain Democrat, has had his share of opportunities in the NASCAR community. He has previously represented NASCAR Nationwide driver Blake Koch and worked with iconic car owner Richard Childress and other names in the development ranks in the west like Michael Self, Jason Bowles, Dallas Montes, Bobby Runyan Jr, and more.
Sullivan now works fulltime for Bill McAnally Racing, a seven-time NASCAR championship team which field multiple drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and the East in addition to promoting NASCAR events in our region and operates unique NAPA AutoCare service centers in the central valley.
From a small town dirt track nestled in the sierra foothills, Placerville is being well represented at the national and regional levels of NASCAR.
Who will be next?
Placerville Speedway will open for its 48th consecutive season Saturday April 9.